France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Palestine


In the Magway region of Myanmar, a country home to one of the oldest petroleum industries in the world, live husband and wife Thein Shwe and Htwe Tin. Running an unregulated oil field, they produce a barrel every few days. They wish above all else to see their youngest son succeed, to break the cycle of poverty. A kettle boils. Mud slicked hands work sputtering machines. The ambient sound of a football match hums from a nearby television. “These days passed quickly”, Htwe says.

From Palestinian-British filmmaker Saeed Taji Farouky, A THOUSAND FIRES is a portrait of a family in flux, and a story of intergenerational conflict and compromise. It is a film of transient moments; of hopes and aspirations; of faith in the forces of karma and luck; of a place, a community, and the rhythms of a day to day; of lingering memories and a turbulent past; and of life persisting, regardless.

Director's Statement

At its heart, this is a film about a couple working hard to give their children a better life. Thein Shwe reminds me of my own father, the tough, quiet man who occasionally breaks into a smile and shows his affectionate side. My father also worked hard, and was often absent, in order to give his family everything he – a Palestinian refugee – never had: stability, certainty, safety. This is what drew me to Thein Shwe. I felt an instinctive connection the instant we met. He soon asked me, “What brought you halfway across the world to find me here? Maybe we were related in a previous life.”

This reflects my approach to filmmaking: working very closely with the people I film, emphasising mutual respect, mutual benefit, and learning from them. In this, I am eternally indebted to the two Burmese assistant directors: Joshua Min Htut (the subject of the Oscar-nominated BURMA VJ) and Than Win Han, who were there filming for over 4 years, crafting the story with me.

With this film, I want to explore the human aspects of the oil industry. As a child growing up in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, global oil trade was at the centre of my world. I was surrounded by the money and mythology of oil; a creature with tentacles reaching across the globe. This is the oil industry that most people are familiar with, and it dominates every aspect of our lives. It creates and destroys. It brings countries unimaginable wealth, and decimates them. I wanted to get beyond the abstraction of “the industry” and examine the point where oil is intimately connected with the human body; where one person reaches into the ground and touches, with their bare hands, the remnants of tens of millions of years of organic decomposition.

This is a vertical film, like the construction of the oil wells, digging deeper rather than zooming out, emphasising miniscule detail over epic narrative. It’s a tale, inspired by the folklore and mythology of Burma: a family going about their daily lives in a slow-moving world of luck, fate, karma, astrology, and dragons, where everything influences everything else and is influenced by millennia of past lives. Above all, the film is about cycles, constantly ending and beginning again. A well is born, bled dry and abandoned, and a new one is dug. Oil is collected, poured into an engine, and the drilling continues. A father worries about his son, then the son grows up and worries about his ageing father. Life, death, and rebirth.

It was during the making of this film that I finally understood that, for the most part, even though my parents made mistakes, they acted with the best intentions. Thus the film is dedicated to them. As the film was nearing completion, the Burmese military staged a violent coup and began a new campaign of repression and killing. At the same time, the Palestinian people faced yet another onslaught with increasingly violent attempts to dispossess them and kill their spirit. This film is for the brave people of Burma and Palestine fighting for their liberation and dignity.

Director's Biography

Saeed Taji Farouky is a Palestinian-British filmmaker who has been producing work around themse of conflict, human rights and colonialism since 2004.

His previous documentary, TELL SPRING NOT TO COME THIS YEAR, premiered at the Berlinale in 2015 where it won the Panorama Audience Award and the Amnesty Human Rights Award.

His films focus on exile and the lingering trauma of conflict. He tells intimate, personal stories with an emphasis on humanism, and its mirror image: surrealism. Saeed participated in the Edinburgh International Film Festival talent lab and the Torino Script Lab with his first fiction feature project.

2021 - A THOUSAND FIRES, Documentary

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Saeed Taji Farouky

Written by: Saeed Taji Farouky

Produced by: Estelle Robin You, Palmyre Badinier, Joram Willink

Cinematography: Saeed Taji Farouky

Editing: Catherine Rascon

Original Score: Fatima Dunn

Sound: James Bulley

Nominations and Awards

  • Documentary Selection 2022